Think of Miami's current hip-hop scene and bass-influenced figures such as Trick Daddy and the expatriated J.T. Money come to mind, with their machine-gun snare-popping rhythms and over-the-top braggadocio. Still, other styles do percolate around town, albeit with far less attention. MC Kenyatta raised more than a few eyebrows with his dread-tinged freestyling during Haviken Hayes's set at last month's Phoenecia/Funkstörung show. And Lee Williams, a Faatland regular, has a new live band, the Square Egg, a new self-released CD EP Rediscovering the Art of Living, and a wonderfully fresh approach. Part of the credit for the last of those goes to producer/collaborator Aaron Fishbein, who constructs thick, jazzy grooves that recall the Native Tongues school, while Williams raps down the middle with a flow reminiscent of Jazzamatazz-era Guru (minus that singer's chip on his shoulder). The overall aesthetic is decidedly out of step with the Miami sound, and that's no accident.
"I'm a middle-class kid," Williams says. "I know the ghetto exists, and I know [our community] hasn't always come upon the best of economic times, but I'm not going to glorify that. I've got to incorporate my personal experiences, my story, into my music. For Trick Daddy, Liberty City and 'no nann's' are his reality. I don't mean any disrespect, but that's not my life."
Williams is in the odd position of having his music featured on network television, while still laboring in semiobscurity. Attracted to the Square Egg by Fishbein's commercial production work, ABC-TV has used snippets of those songs as soundbeds for promotional spots for Dharma and Greg, The Drew Carey Show, and Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. But hearing his music on the tube is hardly the strangest experience Williams has had. That prize goes to a month's worth of shows he did three years ago with Straight Coffee for George, an ensemble that also included Fishbein. As part of a local arts outreach program, the members found themselves performing in front of enraptured elementary school audiences, few of which had ever seen a live rap show before. "They're so honest at that age. They speak their minds," Williams recalls warmly. "And I thought it was cool to turn these kids on to a form of music that wasn't what their parents were used to hearing. The best show we ever did was for a deaf class. There was a lady off to my right who would sign what I was rapping. Sometimes I'd get into a real flow and try to rap really, really fast, just to see if she could keep up! It was fascinating to say something like 'Just throw your hands in the air,' and then watch that get translated." He pauses, and then continues with a laugh: "She's lucky we weren't doing bass. Trying to sign at 125 beats per minute, she'd be dead right now!"
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Bad news out of Hollywood this past week, where the less-than-a-year old club Home closed its doors. Owner Dave Kronstat cited "the usual suspects: scene apathy, slumlords, excessively greedy employees, lack of cash, South Florida in the summer, and The Man." A couple of those greedy employees, however, were pointing their own fingers back at Kronstat, citing his lack of business acumen and the paucity of truly exciting, big-name (i.e., crowd-drawing) bands hitting Home's stage, as the real reason for the club's failure. Whoever's to blame it's a disturbing development, further magnified by the Beach's Cameo Theatre's imminent transformation into a velvet-rope-lined dance spot.
Frankie Avalon was many things to many people, but a slave trader in Africa is probably not the image on most people's short list. That, however, was Avalon's role in Drums of Africa. The 1963 B movie's trailer is just one part of an alternately disturbing and laughably bizarre collection of short films titled Historical/Hysterical. Screening this Saturday, August 14, at midnight and Sunday, August 15, at 1:00 p.m. at the Beach's Alliance Cinema as part of Barron Sherer's Cinema Vortex series, Historical's assemblage of prewar propaganda films, vintage previews, and unwittingly twisted instructional shorts such as Helping Your Child Feel Emotionally Secure and Use of Mace (yes, it's just as painful to watch as it sounds) drive home the true nature of both Hollywood (the other one) and the state: namely that the lines separating the two are slim at best. The program's curator, Stephen Parr, heads the appropriately named stock footage outfit Oddball Film + Video, and his experiences have undoubtedly shaped his perspective. Working with a client list that includes the Butthole Surfers ("they wanted films of scoliosis patients") as well as the Billy Graham Crusade ("they wanted footage of extreme sports.... They're trying to change their image"), Parr has come to a firm conclusion. "After people watch Historical/Hysterical," he says, "I hope they come away with the idea that everything you see has a certain political, social, and economic meaning. You should always ask yourself: Why was this film made? Who was it made for?" And what on earth was Frankie Avalon thinking?
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail email@example.com